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An exercise in caring

Queen’s Cares Alternative Reading Week offers undergraduate and graduate students valuable experience off campus as well as an opportunity to connect with the Kingston community.

[Queen's Cares works with KEYS Employment Centre]
One of the teams of Queen's students taking part in Queen's Cares worked with the KEYS Job Centre on a project to help a group of Syrian women, new to Kingston, develop entrepreneurial skills. From left: Areejah Umar; Katie Lu; Matthias Hermann; and Rodrigo Belda Manrique. (University Communications) 

For many university students, Reading Week is an opportunity to catch up on studies, take a break, or head home for a bit of family time.

But for one group of Queen’s students it was an opportunity to learn more about the Kingston community, lend a hand to the local support network, and connect with fellow students.

The Queen’s Cares Alternative Reading Week program is a community-engaged learning initiative, run by the Student Experience Office (SEO) in Student Affairs, offering students the opportunity to work in teams on a project that has been identified as a need by a local community organization.

For Matthias Hermann, a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry originally from Germany, Queen’s Cares offered a chance to engage with the community. As a graduate student he applied for the project leader position and worked with KEYS Job Centre on a project to help a group of Syrian women, new to Kingston, develop entrepreneurial skills.

[Queen's Cares and the Boys and Girls Club]
A team of students participating in this year's Queen's Cares Alternative Reading Week helped out at the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston and Area. From left: Cordelia Staffieri; Megan Clemens; Yonie Ye; Bertug Yoruk and Kori Cembal, Manager, Volunteer Services and Special Events, Boys and Girls Club. (University Communications)

“I thought Queen’s Cares was a good way to become more aware of what is happening in the community, so I thought why not sign up. I also thought that through the project leader position I would be able to develop some leadership skills, some organizational-planning skills, which is also a big part of my PhD program or something that will be useful once I am finished with my doctorate,” he says. “Those expectations were fulfilled.”

He also enjoyed meeting and interacting with community members,  as well as the team of Queen’s students.

“It was nice working with the Syrian group and developing a sense of cultural difference when interacting with them while at the same time having a group of motivated students who stayed here for Reading Week,” he says. “Working with a motivated group of undergrad students who could go home or do something else was a really nice experience.”

Fanny Wang, a fourth-year Concurrent Education student, worked on a project with Focus Forward for Indigenous Youth. She got involved because she wanted to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and learn about their stories.

Queen’s Cares provided a valuable learning experience and an opportunity for personal reflection, she says.

“At the end of the program, I learned about just a slice of the experiences of the Canadian Indigenous population,” she says. “Coming from a background where my culture shapes a lot of who I am, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have your culture and history taken away. I realized how fiercely I hold on to the idea that I am Chinese-Canadian and, just recently, warming up to the idea of being different. The difficultly for some Aboriginal youths to self-identify stems from deep societal and historical issues. These thoughts are some that pushed me to think outside of my comfort zone and encouraged me to be more reflective about my own experiences and how different systems work in society. How certain systems work can either benefit some or be damaging to others. There’s a lot of learning and re-learning that needs to take place in my life.” 

Other community partners included One Roof Kingston Youth Hub, the Boys and Girls Club, Kingston Community Health Centres’ Change the Conversation, and The H’Art School.

“We are thrilled to have built so many great connections with organizations this year so that Queen’s students can learn from a variety of community partners and work collaboratively in addressing community-identified needs,” says Kevin Collins, Coordinator, Community Engaged Learning in the SEO. “As the program continues to grow, we are excited to be offering international placements for students in February 2019 so that our students can partner with communities both here in Kingston and overseas.” 

Since it began three years ago, the Queen’s Cares program has continued to grow and 30 students from across faculties and schools took part this year. Information on the international placements will be announced in the summer.

For more information, visit the Student Experience Office website